Srinagar : In a major success, security forces in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday killed one of the most wanted militants, top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Bashir Lashkari who had masterminded the gruesome murder of six policemen, including officer Feroz Dar, last month.
Lashkari and his associate, a Pakistani LeT militant Abu Maaz, were killed after a four-hour-long gunfight in south Kashmir's Anantnag district, that ended in police finally blasting the house where the militants were hiding, in Brenthi Batapora village.
Two civilians were also killed near the site of the gunfight where a stone pelting mob had gathered to disrupt the operation against the militants.
Police said a 42-year old woman, identified as Tahira, and a 22-year old youth, Shadab Ahmad Chopan, were killed in the cross-firing between the security forces and the militants.
Earlier, massive protests had broken out near the gunfight site where a stone-pelting mob engaged the security forces in clashes to disrupt the operation.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has expressed grief at the deaths of the two civilians. She again appealed to people not to go near encounter sites as this was likely to endanger their lives.
Kashmir Inspector General of Police (IGP), Munir Khan said in Srinagar that after the murder of Station House Officer Dar and five policemen last month in Achabal area of Anantnag, Bashir Lashkari had become the most wanted militant for the security forces.
Lashkari had masterminded and carried out the attack in which the six police men were killed and their bodies badly mutilated.
The IGP said that though Lashkari has been killed, the security forces cannot lower their guard as "The militants would be on the lookout for soft targets".
Police said the Pakistani militant Maaz was behind several militant attacks in Kashmir.
The IGP said 17 civilians who had been trapped inside the house where the militants had been hiding were brought out to safety.
"It was a long wait as the militants would not allow the civilians to leave the house. I commend the valour of the security forces who ensured that all the 17 civilians were safely rescued," he said.
He said a full-fledged shootout between holed up militants and the security forces started only after the civilians were rescued.
"The encounter continued for two hours after which the two militants were neutralized," the IGP said.
The security forces used explosives to raze the house in which the two militants were hiding.
The IGP confirmed that the two slain militants were Bashir Lashkari and his associate, Abu Maaz.
Lashkari belonged to Sopshali village in Kokernag area of Anantnag district. He carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head.
State DGP, S.P. Vaid congratulated the state police and other security forces for carrying out the encounter.
In the evening, hundreds of people from south Kashmir districts marched to Sopshali village in Kokernag to attend the funeral of Lashkari.
As news about Lashkari's death spread in Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian districts, people using all modes of conveyance started reaching Sopshali village.
Authorities will hand over the body of Lashkari to the next of kin late on Saturday evening to avoid any face off between the mourners and security forces.
Following the death of the two LeT militants, train services between Baramulla and Bannihal towns were suspended.
The District Magistrate Anantnag had ordered closure of all educational institutions in the district earlier in the day when the gunfight began.
Separatist leaders have called for a protest shutdown in the Valley on Sunday against the killing of the two militants and the two civilians in Brenthi Batapora village.